Date: December 2019
MCIT often assists members with risk management advice for Minnesota Open Meeting Law and Minnesota Government Data Practices Act compliance. A common area of inquiry is when the governing board interviews candidates for employment.
Q: Can the board close a meeting to interview job applicants for employment?
A: Under the Open Meeting Law, all meetings of the public body and, in general, meetings of its committees and subcommittees are open to the public when a quorum (a majority of the members of the public body) are present. The Open Meeting Law sets forth specific circumstances under which a meeting may or must be closed. (Minn. Stat. §§ 13D.04, 13D.05) Interviewing candidates for a position is not one of the enumerated reasons to close a meeting.
Under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act, much of the information that would come up in an interview situation would likely be classified as public data. Under the MGDPA, data such as veteran status, relevant test scores, rank on eligible list, job history, education and training, and work availability are public for all applicants (Minn. Stat. § 13.43, subd. 3) The names of applicants (except for undercover law enforcement) become public data when the applicant is selected to be interviewed.
Notwithstanding this, a public entity may discuss otherwise not public data at an open meeting without liability or penalty as long as the disclosure of data is related to a matter within the scope of the governing body’s authority and the disclosure is reasonably necessary to conduct business.
Materials containing not public data should not be made available to the public.
Q: If the board cannot close the meeting to interview, can each of the board members individually interview the candidates or in groups of less than a quorum?
A: Serial one-on-one interviews may violate the Open Meeting Law if it is done to avoid public hearings or to fashion an agreement about whom to hire outside of the public’s view. See Mankato Free Press v. City of Mankato, 563 NW 2d 291 (Minn. App. 1997).
Q: Can the board close a meeting to discuss and choose which candidate will be offered employment?
A: No. This is not one of the permitted reasons for closing a meeting under the OML.
MCIT recommends that members contact their legal counsel for questions on how the Open Meeting Law applies to specific situations. More information about the Minnesota Open Meeting Law can be found on the MCIT Web pages for the Minnesota Open Meeting Law and in the Resource Library under the Open Meeting Law category.